The Queen Mother in the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan revealed on Friday her childhood love of Elvis Presley and the fear she felt at her first ever sighting of an automobile.
Speaking at the Jaipur Literary festival in northern India, where she read extracts from her book Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck recalled her early upbringing in a tiny, isolated village in the west of the kingdom.
Her memories were of an austere but close-knit family life, where gender roles were blurred and husbands acted as midwives.
“My father delivered me as well as four of my brothers and sisters. He was very skilled with his hands,” said Queen Wangchuck, 59, the eldest of four sisters married to the former monarch Jigme Singye Wangchuk.
Her son, Bhutan’s new king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, was crowned in 2008 after his father abdicated, saying that he wanted to match the shift to democracy in the kingdom with a change of face in the royal palace.
At the age of six, the future queen was uprooted when her father decided to send her and her younger sister to boarding school in Darjeeling in northeast India so that she could receive an English-language education.
The journey involved a challenging three-day trek across rugged terrain from the Bhutanese capital, during which the two young children were strapped to the saddle of a horse.
“At one point it took fright and flew off. The saddle turned over and my sister and I were trapped under the belly of the galloping horse. It was terrifying,” she said.
Having survived the trip to Thimpu, she was then given her first ride in an automobile, which was to take her across the border and into India.
“It was a jeep, and when we first saw it, it made a huge impression. We couldn’t believe it actually moved,” she recalled. “It was frightening to get into it. Villagers on the way thought it was some sort of fire-breathing dragon and they used to bring grass to feed it when we stopped.”
Despite persistent homesickness, the queen said her time at boarding school in India was a happy one and opened her eyes to new experiences she could never have had in Bhutan which was then firmly closed to the outside world.
“My happiest memory at school was my first Elvis Presley movie. I even remember its name, It Happened at the World’s Fair. I thought he was wonderful,” Wangchuck said.